JOHNSON CREEK — There is more room to introduce students to biotechnology and to teach others about the finer points of peach cobbler.
Lunch periods no longer require a walk to the elementary school, and the library has doubled in size and includes a video production lab and study booths with power ports and USB connectors. The band room has storage space, practice rooms and a small recording studio, while the metal and wood shops and agricultural classes all have improved spaces.
The days of leaky roofs, antiquated facilities, classrooms in double-wide trailers and frustrations about failed referendums have come to an end in the Johnson Creek School District. The proof can be found along Highway B on the village’s west side in one of the most unique school spaces in the state.
Five domes house nearly 500 of the district’s students in grades five through 12. The $18.9 million combination high school and middle school opened Tuesday for classes. It has students, teachers and the community excited about the new learning spaces in the 109,000-square-foot facility and its potential to draw more residents to the village, located midway between Milwaukee and Madison.
Senior Josh Kupsche, 17, believes the vibes from the new school will help students learn more and reduce behavioral problems. It also may be part of the reason for the Blue Jay football team’s 3-1 start.
“I think you can attribute some of that (football success) to the pride of our community. It’s just a better environment,” said Kupsche, an outside linebacker and defensive end, and a member of National Honor Society and the school’s drama club. “This new school isn’t just all for the students. It’s for the entire community.”
An open house is scheduled for 4:30 p.m. today (after the Packers game) and will include tours of the school. Members of the community, administrators from other school districts, contractors and others curious about the layout are expected to attend.
What they’ll find is a clean, modern school with ample room, skylights and a layout that is unconventional but one that is quickly being accepted by students and teachers.
Three of the monolithic concrete domed buildings are 240 feet in diameter. One is for core high school classes, another for core middle school classes for students in grades five through eight, and the third houses district offices and services, the music and arts departments and a shared library.
Two domes, each 260 feet in diameter, are both for the middle school and high school. One houses the gymnasium and community fitness center, and has an attached, conventionally constructed wrestling room. The other dome contains metal and wood shops, physics, and a family and consumer education room with commercial kitchen equipment. Next to that is a flexible “cafetorium” that includes a kitchen, cafeteria, stage and about 250 removable seats. The domes are connected by enclosed walkways.
“It’s a huge difference,” Brandon Jensen, the school’s choir director said of the new school. “The temperature fluctuations aren’t as drastic. And it’s nice that the kids have their own cafeteria space instead of walking down to the elementary cafeteria.”
The stage in the cafetorium will be used for concerts, plays and presentations. The old high school had one stage in the gymnasium, which created scheduling and logistical headaches for the music, drama and athletic departments.
“It’s an opportunity to have a space that can be dedicated to the lunch program and the breakfast program and healthy snacks throughout the day as well as an auditorium space that isn’t competing with our athletic program for space,” Superintendent Michael Garvey said Thursday as we toured the school. “It’s been an incredible first few days of school. It really provides our students an opportunity to interact in a state-of-the-art facility.”
The former high school and middle school was built in 1956 along Highway B near Highway 26. Additions were constructed in 1959, 1973 and 1981. The first portable trailer to increase classroom space arrived in 1978 and was used through this past spring.
The nearby elementary school, which is still in use, was built in 1964 with additions in 1970 and 1991. A double-wide trailer to house both sections of fifth grade was added in 2008 and another was added in 2010 for both sixth-grade sections.
The 13.7-acre property is on the market for $2.6 million and could be redeveloped into multi-family housing, said Pat Schwartz, who is marketing the property for ReMax Preferred. Proceeds from the sale could be used to build an elementary dome at the 60-acre middle and high school site, officials have said.
But the construction of a school took some convincing.
Three building referendums by the school district using traditional designs were rejected. In 2005, district voters turned back a $21 million proposal by a 4-1 margin.
A $20 million referendum for a middle and high school facility was defeated in 2010 by 210 votes and in 2011 a $29 million project was rejected by a 2-1 margin.
In 2013, a $22 million construction plan using a series of five domes was turned down, but voters approved a less costly version in April 2014. The design of the school is based off a slightly smaller school that opened in 2000 in Grand Meadow, Minnesota.
The design for Johnson Creek saved $8 million in construction costs and is easier and less expensive to heat and cool compared to a building with right angles.
“There’s not a bit of wasted space in this design,” said C.J. O’Neil, who spent 30 years as a librarian in the district and has been on the School Board for the past six years. “There are a lot of people who were against the school that have come around. All of our senior citizens can now get in and move around because there aren’t seven different levels of stairways.”